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Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy

by Lynley Dodd
FILTERS: mind, grade-1-2, prek-k

Summary

This story presents various questions regarding the philosophy of human nature, specifically the philosophy of emotion and feelings.

Hairy Maclary, a small and scruffy black dog, decides it is time to go for a walk. After he leaves his home and starts exploring down the main street, Hairy Maclary is joined by a variety of other dogs, all of different shapes and sizes. They continue on their journey until they are brought to a sudden halt by a tough tomcat, who sends them all running and howling in fear back to their homes, where Hairy Maclary hides in his bed.

Read aloud video by Mrs. Hutchins

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Lynley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy presents various philosophical questions regarding the philosophy of human nature, and more specifically, the philosophy of emotion and feelings. This book addresses the most basic form of irrational fear and raises essential questions about the nature of emotion itself.

When Hairy Maclary and his companions are out on a walk around the neighborhood, they see a cat and all run back to their homes. Although there is no specific reference to what the dogs were feeling as they ran, in context one can guess that they were feeling fear – they were afraid of the cat. This brings up the question of what fear really is and why the dogs felt it in this situation. It is more or less universally accepted that fear is a common emotion, or feeling, among people. The textbook definition of fear is “an emotion that causes discomfort due to the belief that someone or something is threatening.” Perhaps fear is merely a biological mechanism, which is designed to keep us out of danger. However, this does not speak for the concept of irrational fears and why we occasionally feel fear, even when we know perfectly well that we are safe. For example, while watching horror movies it is common to feel scared, even if you are in the comfort and safety of a movie theater or your own home. The first set of questions investigates the experience of fear for us all and questions what this emotion really is.

The second question set focuses on the generalized concept of emotions. We know that we all feel many different things as we grow up, and we are taught from an early age that these things are emotions. As we age, we are taught how to control and hide many of our own emotions in order to fit social standards. The power of emotions comes from their constant presence in our lives and our general lack of control over them. It is important then that we do not ignore them, but instead discuss and talk about them in order to gain a better understanding of one of the main driving forces behind human nature. Why do we feel the way we do? What purpose does emotion serve in our lives? Why do we have such a complete lack of control over the way we feel? These are questions that are difficult, if not impossible, to answer in a definitive way, shifting them into more philosophical grounds as opposed to scientific.

Lastly, the final group of questions deals with the existence of universal emotions in an individualist world and why you may respond so differently to various emotional situations. The first concept considers why, in a world where no two people are quite the same, we feel such similar basic emotions on a daily basis. If everyone is entirely unique, then wouldn’t it follow logically that everyone should all have their own specialized pallet of feelings and emotions? Due to the impossibility of knowing what another feels, we cannot compare and contrast our own emotions with another’s, but we can observe different actions and reactions to various situations. And what can be clearly observed is an incredibly different array of reactions to almost every imaginable situation by different people. Does the woman who cries hysterically at the smallest mistake feel stronger emotions at a most basic level, or is she just less adept at hiding what she feels than the next person? Why do some events cause next to no emotional response to one person, when another may sit and brood over what has happened for weeks? At the most basic level, is it differences in emotion or emotional control that leads to such differences in humanity when it comes to this subject?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Fear

After seeing the tough tomcat, all six dogs ran away, back to their homes

  1. Do you think that that the dogs were scared of the cat? If so, what actions made you think this?
  2. Was there any reason for the dogs to be scared?
  3. Does there always have to be a rational reason to be afraid?
  4. Can you think of a time when you were afraid?
  5. How do you know that what you were feeling actually was fear?
  6. Could what the dogs were feeling as they ran away been something other than fear, such as surprise?

Emotions

The dogs all experience a similar feeling after seeing the cat, which causes them to run away.

  1. What is an emotion?
  2. Do you think it was an emotion that caused Hairy Maclary to run away from the cat?
  3. What was the main emotion that Hairy Maclary and the other dogs felt that caused them to run away?
  4. Do you think the dogs had to experience this emotion, or was it a choice?
  5. Have you ever been able to choose whether or not you would feel emotional?

Universal and Individual Emotions

Although Hairy Maclary and his five companions were all different shapes and sizes, and all very different dogs with very different lives, they all responded the same way when they saw the cat.

  1. What does it mean to feel emotional?
  2. What are some examples of emotions that you’ve felt?
  3. Do you think that other people feel the same emotions that you do?
  4. If people are all just as emotional, or frightened in a situation, then what might cause them to respond differently to it?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion archived here. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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